Saturday, August 1 • Today is the Day!
I packed up my room Saturday in anticipation Sunday morning’s events – a COVID test at 0700, followed by embarking on the USS Essex, but also as a distraction. Saturday’s events, or rather lack-there-of, nearly caused me to have a mental breakdown. I spent hours and frustrating phone calls chasing an overnight shipment from FedEx, which contained an integral part we needed to affix Old Glory to the crane that would hoist her from the pier, onto the deck of the ship. Saddled with the thought that months of prep to get Old Glory here, might be wasted due to this missing key component which might prevent her from going on the ship. Additionally, I was waiting for Old Glory’s grand arrival – both were expected on Saturday morning. This is going to be a great day!
The plane had passed its anticipated date of arrival in San Diego, by more than a week. Some thought it wouldn’t make it at all. However, our mechanic, Andres, and the flight crew stayed positive, and were determined to get her in the air and to the ship. They left Florida on Thursday, July 30th and made great progress, stopping only in Texas and Arizona for fuel and rest along the way. I was overjoyed when I learned they had left Arizona early Saturday morning and were expected to be on the ground in San Diego by 10 am. I cannot wait to give this airplane the biggest hug once we reunite!
Today is the Day… or so I Thought.
The crew sent me a message at 9:03 am – fog rolled in and since Old Glory is old school and doesn’t rely on instruments, she was halted at Brown, a nearby landing field only 50 miles away. Minutes, then hours, then the whole day passed. Aircraft and crew waited all day at Brown for a break in the thick fog to make the tiny 10-minute flight to the Navy base. I was anxiously anticipating both an airplane, and a package from FedEx while I packed-up my things for an early morning check-out, scattered throughout the room from the past 2 weeks of quarantine. Unfortunately, neither arrived.
It seems today was not “the Day,” however, tomorrow is another day!
Sunday, August 2 • Anxious Anticipation
I received news of my negative result from the COVID test Sunday morning and was picked up shortly before noon and dropped outside the gate at the pier. Due to COVID restrictions, the Navy driver couldn’t help me with my luggage, OH BOY!
With great effort, I managed to wheel my ridiculously large bag and other luggage over the pavement, across the submerged metal rails and other obstacles, to the check-in tent. Then up the ramp and to a podium where a few sailors orchestrated all of the moving pieces of such an operation. I looked around, taking in all that was happening, and smiled when I spotted the pallets of donated toys lined up along one side, secured with cargo netting.
I was assigned not one, but four sailors to assist getting me to my quarters.
One takes control of the large bag, another takes my over-sized and over-stuffed carry-on, and a third chuckles slightly as he takes my purse-shaped toiletries bag. I’m led up a steep ramp, to the next level, by the fourth sailor to whom I confess my embarrassment for my excessive luggage. The sailor leading smiles and assures me, “Oh, it’s ok ma’am, they’re used to lifting things heavier than this.”
The remaining inclines are not ramps, but instead stairwells. (I would later learn they’re called ladder-wells – yikes!) Not really stairs, the treads are open, the handrails are thin pipes that sometimes extend the full length of the incline, but usually not. And, in some cases there’s a circular porthole to climb through at the top. I cringe as I glance back, unsure if my gigantic bag will clear the final opening.
Phew, my luggage and I have arrived at my Floor L 02.
I am relieved knowing my escorts can take a break now and roll the bags down the passageway. And then we reached the first obstacle, an oval-shaped, partial doorway ending just below my knee that I had to step over (and my bags would need to be lifted over), and then another immediately after. Every 10-20 feet, another, and another, until we at last arrived at my hallway and ultimately my stateroom. Hoping I could make it up to these unfortunate lads, I asked the lead sailor if I could give them a tip. “Thank you but no ma’am – it’s their job.”
I felt I should have shouted an “OOH RAH!” in response but the damsel in distress was still in charge.
I hurriedly unpacked my things with disregard for COVID cleansing anything with my Clorox wipes. Loud clanks and bangs echo in my stateroom as I toss clothes into self-locking metal drawers that line one-side, bunk beds on the other. I affectionately eye the top bunk, always my preference. I check my phone, anxious for information about Old Glory, the sky was still shrouded by dense fog when I embarked on the ship. My metal-encased room as I expected, offered no signs of cell phone connectivity. Nervously, I leave my room, hopeful I won’t get lost trying to find my way to the flight deck. Anyone that knows me, would have wagered bets on my chances of success.
I wander down this passageway, then that one… but don’t see any clearly marked exit or sign of daylight. As I turn left following a passageway around a corner, my phone goes crazy with notifications, I must be close to the outside. Pausing, I read a text from the crew, they have been cleared to take off – they should arrive withing the next 15 minutes! How the hell do I get outside?
Finally, I see a half-sized, oval-shaped doorway, and through it I can see outside. It’s a small opening, and I’m not sure it’s meant to be used as a door. Hmmm, will I cause a problem if I use this opening as a door? Feeling completely out of my element, and that I might be in a nautical version of the “Being John Malkovich” movie, I am momentarily paralyzed, not sure if I should be adventurous and climb out or keep searching for a more obvious exit. The phrase, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” pops into my head, and I squeeze out the mini door into the sun shining brightly – yippee!!!
There are sailors lining the side of the ship, I ask one how to get up to the flight deck, they lead me down this outside passageway called the “Catwalk,” the ship on one side, protective railing preventing anyone from falling overboard on the other. And point to a set of stairs with a cable blocking the top. “Just duck under that cable, you’re VIP and authorized to go up there, no one will bother you.” Cool, thanks I reply and hurry up the steps, and under the cable at the top. Pausing, I look around hoping to get my bearings of just where I am at relative to where I think I need to be, and climb another few stairs to an open, flat deck with a curb along the edge.
As I step over the curb, I’m stopped by a soldier dressed in full camo, carrying a BIG-ASS gun! “I’m sorry ma’am, you aren’t authorized to come up here.” My inability to ever have a poker face must have revealed my terror, and he started to laugh, “c’mon on up ma’am, I’m just kidding.” Holy frickin’ Hannah! I busted up and laughed with him.
Once on the flight deck, I found the other folks that had been in quarantine at the Navy lodge, as well as Taigh Ramey, who I had spoken to on the phone a few times and was coordinating the airplane lifts. Taigh had fortunately found a work-around to load Old Glory since the FedEx package containing our lift fittings had still not arrived.
I waited on the deck, with the others, squinting from the sudden brightness of sun that appeared as if the fog had been pulled back like a curtain exposing an open window. My hand resting above my brow, serving as a make-shift visor as I searched the horizon for any sign of Old Glory. I could see clouds already beginning to fill in around the Navy base that housed the runway. Our window of opportunity would close soon.
Finally, across the sky, I caught a glimpse of her, the shiny polished chrome of her skin reflecting the sun like a WWII era signal lamp. Along with numerous others, anxious for her arrival, we watched from the ship’s flight deck as she was swallowed by the cloud cover and the fog that had rolled back in. At last, my phone buzzed again – they had landed safely at the base!
Next we would began the towing and loading process.